How To Save Your Story With One Single Thing


(Summarized from a blog by Jen Manuel called Margin Notes)

Your character has to want something. There should be something at stake or the reader won’t care. What if you do that and story still falls flat? There’s something missing. A tension? But how do you fix this, and easily?

An overlooked approach is to add a request moment. The request builds inherent tension in the character that has been asked for a decision, because a request assumes the character has a choice. And choice is in the heart of drama.

Shakespeare uses the request in most all of his works. Also, the Bible, as a narrative, is a series of requests from God that people failed to fulfill, starting with the request to not eat the forbidden fruit.

A request moment reveals social obligations between characters. That’s what makes it so incredibly powerful as a dramatic tool. There are three kinds of exchanges that might require a decision.

  1. Advice is the weakest kind of exchange. There is no obligation and the receiving character can take it or leave it. There is no sense of urgency.
  2. Commands are at the other end of the spectrum, but also hold little dramatic weight because they carry the notion that person doesn’t have much choice. There is pressure on the person, but a pull is created when the person has to agonize over the choice.
  3. A request implies that there is some obligation between characters. A request will automatically insert an ethical question: is he ethically obligated to fulfill the request? Will the character fulfill the request? Can he fulfill the request?

One thought on “How To Save Your Story With One Single Thing”

  1. Gary, great thoughts. I’m struggling with a weak ending and thinking through the “request” idea helps. I’ll try it and report back.

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